Rajkot/New Delhi: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram pitched for greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir yet again on Saturday, drawing stinging criticism from the BJP, with union minister Smriti Irani calling it "shocking and shameful".
- Smriti Irani calls Chidambaram's comments "shocking and shameful"
- Arun Jaitely accused Congress of encouraging separatism in the state
- Chidambaram said question of greater autonomy to be "seriously examined"
"The demand in the Kashmir Valley is to respect the letter and spirit of Article 370, that means they want greater autonomy. My interactions in Jammu and Kashmir led me to the conclusion that when they ask for azadi, mostly, I am not saying all... the overwhelming majority, they want autonomy," he told reporters in Rajkot, Gujarat.
"Yes, I do," Mr Chidambaram said when he was asked if he still thinks that the state should be given greater autonomy.
Mr Chidambaram had, in July 2016, advocated greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir, saying India should restore the "grand bargain" under which Kashmir had acceded by granting a large degree of autonomy to it. He had warned that otherwise the country will have to pay a "heavy price".
Reacting sharply, the BJP said it was not surprising to see Mr Chidambaram make such comments given his leader supported those who gave slogans of "Bharat tere tukde honge", an apparent reference to Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi backing those who protested the arrest of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar in the JNU row.
Mr Kumar, then the JNU students' union president, and a few others were arrested on the charge of sedition after anti-national slogans were allegedly raised at an event on the campus in February last year to protest the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
"Shocking that PC bats for separatists & 'azadi' but then not surprising given that their leader supported 'Bharat tere tukde honge' naara!" Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani tweeted.
"Shameful given that PC spoke in Gujarat, the birthplace of Sardar Patel ; a man who dedicated his life for the unity & prosperity of India," she added.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accused the Congress of encouraging separatism in Jammu and Kashmir and said Mr Chidambaram's statement "hurt" India's national interest which was a serious issue.
"Whether this statement which has come from a prominent leader of the Congress party is the party's official stand or not? I think the party should immediately clarify that," he said in Mumbai.
Distancing itself from Mr Chidambaram's remarks, the Congress said the "opinion of an individual is not necessarily the opinion of the party". The party's chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala
told reporters that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and "will always remain so unquestionably".
Mr Chidambaram said the question of greater autonomy should be "seriously examined" and it should be considered in which areas it could be granted.
"It's (autonomy) perfectly within the Constitution of India. Jammu and Kashmir will remain an integral part of India but it will have larger powers as promised under Article 370," he said.
In Srinagar, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav Madhav alleged that the Kashmiri people and the whole country "are bearing the brunt of the mistakes" that were committed by Mr Chidambaram and the Congress government.
"We do not need this advice. The present government would seek advice from well-wishers of J-K and would act definitely in future. We do not need advice from Chidambaram," Mr Madhav, the BJP's pointsman for Jammu and Kashmir, said.